World Social Forum: Making Young People at Home in Union Movement

Posted By admin On February 6, 2009 @ 10:20 am In Organizing & Bargaining | No Comments

Brian Finnegan and Gladys Cisneros gave us this update from the ninth [1] World Social Forum held in Brazil from Jan. 27-Feb. 1.

On the opening day of workshops at the World Social Forum, U.S. youth labor activists from the AFL-CIO [2] Solidarity Center and the United Steelworkers ([3] USW) joined the youth commission of Brazil's chemical workers confederation (CNQ-CUT) in a discussion of young worker participation in the labor movement. Carlos Jimenez from Jobs with Justice was also present at the workshop.

The debate also dealt with the current financial crisis, since young workers are especially vulnerable to layoffs, and other measures that employers take to reduce costs.

Brazilian youth labor activists from the chemical sector discussed workplace organization, youth-specific collective bargaining concerns and promoting innovative union structures to encourage youth leadership. They also argued for the need to bridge the digital divide and use new media and information technology to build national movements and maintain communication between workers in different countries.

The CNQ-CUT presented the results of a recent survey of young workers developed in partnership with the Solidarity Center. Participants also discussed other CNQ-CUT programs with the Solidarity Center that support networks of unions at chemical multinationals like Dow and BASF.

CNQ-CUT is a leader in youth participation in Brazil's labor movement. Brazil's CUT has approved structural reforms that will create a national youth secretary who will hold a seat on CUT National Executive Committee beginning after the next CUT national convention in August 2009. CUT has already created union structures and institutional rules to improve gender and racial equality within the country's labor movement.

Gladys Cisneros, AFL-CIO representative to the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas Youth Committee, gave a broad overview of the economic situation and future of young workers in the United States. She also discussed various efforts by the union movement to mobilize and engage young workers and activists, and described the alliances between labor and community and student organizations.

Patrick Young of the USW described transformations in the United States and the global economy that affect young workers, giving a personal account of growing up in the Rust Belt. Young stressed the need to develop social movement unionism so that labor can broaden its appeal and relevance to young people who are no longer likely to find unionized industrial jobs.

Rebecca Cooper, also of the USW, outlined some USW initiatives to increase its visibility and presence among young workers. These include the USW's Associate Member Program, designed to provide a place in the labor movement for all, whether or not they are represented by a workplace union.

Cooper noted that many young people cite the environment as their top concern. The USW's 4 Blue Green Alliance represents an important step to build connections between the labor and environmental movements, whose interests are no longer being seen as divergent but mutual in this time of economic and environmental crisis.

Many young trade unionists stood in sweltering heat in a packed room for three hours during the forum. They listened to U.S. and Brazilian speakers and asked many of their own urgent questions about how to rebuild the international labor movement with high levels of participation by young workers and produce profound changes in the way unions work with the broader community to create a sustainable future with decent jobs.

Article printed from AFL-CIO NOW BLOG: (external link)

URL to article: (external link)